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Playwright's work again chosen for D.C. festival

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CHRIS PARKER/THISWEEKNEWS
Packing props June 26 in the basement of Shiloh Baptist Church for a performance of "Mama's Drama" at the D.C. Black Theatre Festival were (from left) Dominique Smith, Chad Michael, Loren Couch and playwright Nanette Hodge. "Mama's Drama" also will be presented July 12-14 at the Black Theatre Festival in Columbus.
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By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Once was not enough, and for that Nanette Hodge is grateful.

For the second straight year, Hodge, a Northland resident who writes plays under the name Nanette Marie, participated in last week's D.C. Black Theatre Festival.

In 2012, she applied to have one of her works featured in the festival for established and emerging artists. This time around, Hodge was invited to read her newest work, Suzette's Saga, and to have an earlier play, Mama's Drama, performed at the three-year-old event.

In addition, Mama's Drama was chosen to be performed at the Black Theatre Festival in Columbus, July 12-14, and at the 2013 Atlanta Black Theatre Festival, Oct. 3-6.

"My whole life -- and you don't realize it until it happens -- has been set up to do what I do now," Hodge said last week on the eve of departing for Washington, D.C. "I never set out to be a playwright, to be a writer.

"I am so honored. I am excited. I feel so purposed right now. I know that I'm doing this work, but I also know that I was chosen to do this work. It's so gratifying."

It is indeed, according to Mark E. Pinkston. The Reynoldsburg resident is the director for Mama's Drama.

"For them to invite us back the next year, without having to apply, and being it's in a major city, it just put us on a high," he said last week. "It just made us feel good. Anybody who's invited to D.C. for anything, you're thinking, 'Wow, they liked us so much they asked us back.' "

Hodge, who recently formed Real Good Productions LLC to put on her own plays and those of other aspiring playwrights and artists, tells deeply personal stories in her works. Both Mama's Drama and Suzette's Saga deal with the emotional issues related to a child conceived during an extramarital affair and how she fits in, or doesn't, with the rest of the family.

"That's a brave subject to put on the table," Hodge said.

Hodge, 63, is a Columbus native. She grew up on the Near East Side and in North Linden. She attended Linden-McKinley High School and graduated from Wilberforce University, where she studied organizational management.

She worked for Abbott Laboratories, starting in research before moving on to marketing, sales and new acquisitions. She also spent a dozen years on the board of the nonprofit Ni Performing Arts Theatre Inc.

All of that experience, she said last week, has her in good stead in launching her own theatrical production company.

"I've always been intrigued with plays because unlike movies, where they can take and retake and refine the process, with plays you have people showing the raw emotions of the writer, and you have people who sit in the audience and relate better because it's person-to-person," Hodge said. "A playwright is the foundation of a production, but key people like the director, like the actors, take your vision and put the movement to it.

"The director has to be connected to your piece in order to be able to present it in the way the writer intended. It's so essential to have a director who will take your piece and put your vision and include your vision."

She said she has that essential element in director Pinkston, who has been involved with theater since the early 1980s.

"I call him my 'midhusband' because he's delivering my baby," Hodge said. "He understands how the actors need to portray my words. I was amazed when we first started rehearsing in 2011 when he'd say, 'She wasn't angry at that point, she was hurt,' and I hadn't told him that."

"She puts me up on a pedestal," Pinkston said. "I guess I more or less look at the realities in life and personal experience, as well. I've always been a person and able to read people.

"After reading the play, I just saw so many dynamics from each person, feeling their pain, their joy, their sorrow; I internalized each individual person in the play, whether male or female."

"And then the actors, oh, my God," Hodge said. "The actors take your words and they make them sing, they make them ring your message.

"As I tell my production team, I am nothing without you. I can write all day long, but until I heard you speak it, until I see you act it, they are words that have meaning to me ... but the actors give my words life. They're responsible for either giving my message or losing my message."

In preparation for the D.C. Black Theatre Festival performances of Mama's Drama last weekend, the cast and crew rehearsed the play at Shiloh Baptist Church on Mount Vernon Avenue. As a way of thanking the congregation for use of the space, Hodge said they put on a free performance.

The actors were surprised, the author said, to find that several in the audience were in tears at the end of the play.

"I told them, 'This is a healing play, and that's why the words that you speak are going to resonate with the audience,' "Hodge said.

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